LATVIA, the middle Baltic state, east of Sweden accross the Baltic Sea. Its area is 64,5 thousand sq km, population 2.4 mln, official language Latvian, one of only two surviving Baltic languages, the other is Lithuanian. Religion Lutheran and Russian Orthodox. Currency the Lat and santims.
Latvia,one of the three Baltic Republics, lies between the two of them, Estonia in the north and Lithuania in the south. It has a very long Baltic Sea coastline stretching for 500 km ( 310 miles), 5000 lakes, 1000 rivers and streams. The largest rivers are the Daugava, Gauja,Lielupe,Venta. The Baltics remains ice-free in winter.
The Latvian language, the same as Lithuanian are of great antiquity.They belong to the Baltic branch of the Indo-European languages. The survival of these languages in the turmoil of history is a great achievement of such small Baltic nations.
Religion Lutheran and Russian Orthodox. Currency the Lat and santims.
Latvians retained also many customs and rituals from pre-Christian times. One of the most ancient and popular traditions is the celebration of Midsummer's Day, or Jani, on June 24 each year. Women wear crowns of flowers on their heads,while men make crowns from boughs of oak. The evening of 23 June begins with singing of traditional Jani songs and when dusk falls and 24 June- the shortest summer night starts, huge bonfires are burning all night long all accross the country. People sing and dance around them, jump over the flames. A magical country to visit on Midsummer Jani night to listen to Latvian folk songs and watch the dances continuing all night long selebrating summer solstice.
Major cities in Latvia: Riga, the capital, Liepaja, Ventspils, Daugavpils, Jelgava.
A timeless beauty of Riga, the capital of Latvia, the largest of the three Baltic capitals with the population of 800,000. Located on the Daugava river about 15 km from the Baltic Sea it traces its history from the early 13th century and celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2001. Its picturesque Old Town area with historic churches and museums, a beautiful assemblage of Art Nouveau buildings perfectly reflect the city's history.
WORTH TO VISIT
With more time to spare interesting trips from Riga can be made to the historic towns of Cesis, Sigulda or Bauska with castles dating from the middle ages, the Rundale Palace built by Rastrelli, the famous architect of St. Petersburg Czarist palaces. Enjoy the pine woods and summer houses in the seaside town Jurmala, close to Riga, overlooking the Gulf of Riga and sweeping deep inland from the Baltic Sea, taking more than half of Latvia's total coastline.
The ancestors of most present day Latvians were the Baltic tribes who settled here around 2000 B.C. According to the earliest written records referring to the Baltic tribes, they were ‘farmers living on the coast of the amber sea' (Cornelius Tacitus, 100 B.C.) One of the main trade routes from Scandinavia to Byzantium was passing through present day Latvia. The greatest change in medieval Latvia came when the crusades started to the Baltics in the early 13thcentury. Missionaries and knights from Germany arrived and thus Riga was founded in 1202 under the Bishop Albert and the crusaders,called the Knights of the Sword.The new German rulers conquered the lands of local tribes : Livs,Latgals,Zemgals and Cours and called their Germanic state 'Livonia'. The Livonian war with Russia in the 16th century,later with Poland and Sweden until the czarist Russia took control of Latvia in the 18th century. The Baltic Germans flourished while the native Latvians, mostly peasants,remained as serfs, liberated only by the mid-19th century. But the ethnic identity of the Baltic nation - Latvians remained strong throughout the centuries. As a part of the Russian Empire, Latvia was involved in the 1st World War.With the revolution starting in Russia in 1917, Latvians started thinking about their independence and declared it on 18 November,1918. But only in 1921 the European powers recognized Latvia and other Baltic States officially. The period of the first independence 1918-1940 saw great progress in all spheres of life. But when Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribentrop Pact in 1939,Latvia was assigned to the Soviet Union, under the secret protocol. In 1940 Latvia became a Soviet republic. The nazi occupation lasted from 1941 till 1944 when Latvia was again incorporated into the Soviet Union for nearly 50 years. In March 1990 the independent Republic of Latvia was re-established. Today it is one of EU states, a member of NATO, carefully maintains its past traditions and modern innovations and trends.